As diabetes diagnoses continue to climb among children in the United States, a new study makes a worrisome discovery: Children with type 2 diabetes may be more vulnerable than previously thought to a dangerous eye complication called diabetic retinopathy.
Kids with type 2 diabetes are nearly twice as likely than those with type 1 diabetes to develop diabetic retinopathy within 15 years of their diagnosis, the study found. Frequent ophthalmologist check ups are more important than ever for these children, experts say, as these exams could help spot the eye disease before serious damage is done.
Both types of diabetes have been on the rise among children in the U.S., with the rate of type 2 diabetes increasing more rapidly, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The American Diabetes Association projects that the number of young people with type 1 diabetes will triple and those with type 2 diabetes will nearly quadruple by the year 2050.
Eye disease more common, severe in kids with type 2 diabetes
The study followed 525 children diagnosed with type 1 or type 2 diabetes for 50 years. Over time, a trend emerged: Children with type 2 diabetes were more likely than those with type 1 to develop diabetic retinopathy — and their eye disease was much more serious. They were also more likely to need retinal surgery to save their vision, and they had a higher risk of cataracts.
It's not clear why the risk of eye complications might differ by type of diabetes. The study only included patients from predominantly white Olmstead County, Minnesota, so it's possible that the results may not generalize to the U.S. population at large. Nonetheless, researchers believe the findings indicate a significant trend.
“All patients with diabetes, regardless of age and type, should monitor closely for symptoms of eye complications. Don't hesitate to reach out to your eye doctor immediately if you detect any changes in your vision,” says ophthalmologist and Academy member G. Atma Vemulakonda, MD. Pediatric ophthalmologists should note the different risks posed by diabetes type, he says, and "perhaps keep a closer eye on young patients with type 2 diabetes when planning follow-up care."
Symptoms of eye disease in people with diabetes
Patients with diabetes need to see an ophthalmologist annually for dilated eye exams. Diabetic retinopathy can be present long before symptoms or vision problems are noticed.
If you or a family member experience any of the following symptoms, contact your ophthalmologist immediately:
• Spots or dark strings floating in your vision
• Blurry vision
• Vision that fluctuates from blurry to clear
• Dark or empty areas in your vision
• Difficulty seeing well at night
• Noticing colors appear dull or faded